Our first volleyball rankings of the season.
1. Bishop McLaughlin (1-0)
Up next: Wednesday at Coral Shores and Marathon, Friday at Key West
Outlook: The Hurricanes are ranked 86th in the nation in the Prepvolleyball.com preseason poll. Not only do sisters Audrey and Gabriella Koenig return from last year’s team that made the Class 3A state final and lost just one match, but there are several talented newcomers as well. Freshman right side hitter Maddie Snider is 6-foot-3 and already a top Division I recruit. Freshman Ali Waldon is a 6-foot-1 outside hitter who is also very talented. And freshman middle hitter Ezzie Thompson rounds out a trio of talented youngsters. Junior libero Adrianna Lopez is also back, as are setters Alexandra Postlethwaite, a junior, and Terah Nejman, a senior.
2. Plant (0-1)
Up next: Tuesday at Wharton, Thursday vs. Newsome
Outlook: The Panthers made it all the way to the Class 8A championship game last season. Most of the players from that team return. Seniors Birdie Frierson, Elizabeth Price and Cody Murray, along with junior Erin Morrissey and sophomore Lily Frierson all return to the front line. Senior libero Hailie Gould and Tampa Prep transfer Sam Caglianone will also play a big role. The schedule is tough as always, as the first match proved. Plant lost to Oviedo Hagerty in three sets. The Panthers beat Hagerty in last year’s region final.
3. Clearwater Central Catholic (0-0)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Bradenton Christian, Thursday vs. Tampa Catholic
Outlook: The Marauders did not take a big hit with graduation. Senior outside hitter Linsey Harrison and junior outside hitter Kasey Singer both return. Sophomore setter Victoria Hensley is very talented and will have plenty of options. Junior right side hitter Kylie White is a transfer from Palm Harbor University who should make an impact. Another transfer, freshman middle blocker Brooke Green (Indian Rocks Christian), will be in the lineup. Senior Brianna Scully moves from setter to libero to take over for Pammy Robinson.
4. Wharton (1-0)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Plant, Thursday vs. Strawberry Crest
Outlook: The Wildcats have four key returners from last year’s 24-4 team, and all four are seniors. Middle hitter Jamie Koopman had 185 kills as a junior. She is committed to Ithaca College. Outside hitter Jeanette Henderson led the team with 188 kills. Middle hitter Lexi Morse and outside hitter Deborah Rodriguez also bring experience up front. Wharton is again in a difficult district with Plant and Palm Harbor University, but experience is on its side.
5. Calvary Christian (1-0)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Tampa Catholic
Outlook: The Warriors were a very good team last season, it’s just that Shorecrest was slightly better. Things could change this season. Senior outside hitter Cathryn Long and twin sister and setter Jennafer Long transferred prior to last season and made an immediate impact. Junior libero Sophie Mahaz is another key returner. The Warriors are already off to a good start with a sweep of Palm Harbor University.
6. Nature Coast (2-0)
Up next: Tuesday at Lecanto, Thursday at Cypress Creek
Outlook: The Sharks won 25 matches last season and were Hernando County’s best team. There are several key players returning. Senior Madison Clark is back after leading the team with 326 kills. Senior Karla Cantero returns as the top setter. Sophomore Laura Sinsko had 147 kills as a freshman. Jodi Page and Jennifer Porcelli will be hard to replace, but the talent is there for Nature Coast to make another run.
7. St. Petersburg (1-0)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Seminole, Thursday vs. Dixie Hollins
Outlook: The Green Devils won 23 matches last season but couldn’t get past Palm Harbor University in the region tournament. They should be just as competitive again. They did lose kill leader Julia Gilby, who graduated early to attend the University of Florida. But junior setter Nicole Robison, junior middle hitter Madelyn Davis and junior outside hitter Kate Youmans all return. Sophomore middle hitter Jenna Davis should also make a big impact. The Green Devils started the season with a win over Shorecrest on Thursday.
8. Steinbrenner (2-0)
Up next: Thursday at Bloomingdale
Outlook: The Warriors are in a difficult district that includes Plant, Wharton and Palm Harbor University, but they shouldn’t be overlooked this season. They have only lost one set in four matches, including two in the preseason. Sophomore Nina Moorer, junior Lilou Stegeman, senior Pamela Delgado Megne and junior Emma Heidelberg are key players this season.
9. Osceola (3-0)
Up next: None this week
Outlook: The Warriors are relatively young, but they are much more talented than last year’s 10-7 team. Senior outside hitter Kalli Cors is committed to the University of Tampa. Sophomore setter Nicole Fowler and sophomore right side hitter Olivia Dal Sasso are also key returners. Freshman right side hitter Kaitlin Curry is talented and junior outside hitter Sandy Cao transferred from Clearwater. They are going to be a tough team to beat.
10. East Lake (3-1)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Largo, Thursday vs. Freedom
Outlook: Eagles coach Terry Small has to have nicknames for his top three players, because they are senior libero Alivia Horn, senior outside hitter Olivia Thompson and sophomore middle hitter Olivia Aniol. He can’t just shout “Olivia." The Eagles were swept by Steinbrenner to start last week, but came back with sweeps of Sunlake and Land O’ Lakes. Sophomore Valentina Echeverri is also off to a good start on the front line.
11. Sunlake (1-1)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Cypress Creek
Outlook: The Seahawks took a bit hit when sophomore outside hitter Kylie Ciani went down with a knee injury that will likely keep her out for the regular season. But they have several other players returning from last year’s 24-win team, and they also got a talented transfer in Brette Heymann. She led Land O’Lakes in kills as a sophomore last season. Senior Caroline Schoonover is back after recording 237 kills, which gives Sunlake a big line up front. Seniors Cydnee Reimann and Sofia McGuire also return. The Seahawks made it to the Class 7A region final last season and could be even better this year if they can overcome the loss of Ciani.
12. Berkeley Prep (2-0)
Up next: Friday vs. Palm Harbor University
Outlook: Bucs coach Mackenzie Tichenor says her team is young but has much potential, so we will take her word for it. It is Berkeley Prep, after all. The Bucs were 11-16 last season with young players and a difficult schedule. The schedule remains difficult, but there are several talented players to watch. They include junior outside hitter Natalie Bono, junior middle hitter Camryn Carlo, sophomore outside hitter Ava Swain, sophomore outside hitter Lucca Dunser and sophomore middle hitter Bre McDonough.
13. Weeki Wachee (2-0)
Up next: Tuesday at Crystal River, Thursday vs. East Ridge
Outlook: The Hornets lost five seniors from last year’s 18-win team. But there are still talented players left on the roster. Sophomores Grace Colleran and Kristen Pizzano lead the offense up front. Senior Amberlyn Werkmeister is one of the better setters in the area. Senior defensive specialist Amber Paulsen already has 36 digs. Nature Coast will likely be the stiffest competition in Class 4A, District 5.
14. Academy of the Holy Names (2-0)
Up next: Tuesday at Northside Christian, Friday at Carrollwood Day
Outlook: The Jaguars won 18 matches last season and appear to be just as good this year. They have not dropped a set yet, but the competition heats up. A pair of freshmen, Camille McClendon and Campbell Halme lead the offense so far. Junior Olivia Mortellaro is back as the starting libero. Sophomore Morgan Garlick and junior Jenessa Bailey share the setter duties. This is a young team that may be the most talented in Class 4A, District 7.
15. Northside Christian (1-1)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Academy of the Holy Names, Thursday at Shorecrest
Outlook: Watch out for the Mustangs. They were 18-8 last season in a highly competitive district that included state champion Shorecrest, Calvary Christian, Carrollwood Day and Tampa Prep. This year, Class 3A, District 6 still includes Calvary and Shorecrest along with improved Indian Rocks Christian and St. Petersburg Catholic. Libero Hannah Alstott is back for a fifth season and is committed to Jacksonville. Senior setter Ashley Russell, a Rollins College commit, is currently injured but will return soon. Junior Emilia Harding is a powerful right side hitter. If the depth is there, the Mustangs could go far.
On the bubble: Academy at the Lakes (3-0), Mitchell (2-0), Bloomingdale (1-1), Robinson (1-1), Clearwater (1-0), Palm Harbor University (0-1), Keswick Christian (1-0), Shorecrest (0-1), Largo (2-0)